By Bus to Baucau

Timor Leste 2013 –

Our trip to Baucau was adventurous enough for us. Traveling in a well-worn bus with Timorese passengers and very little English spoken, bags of various goods strewn across the floor, then passengers sitting on the goods and every seat occupied. Did I mention all the freight on the roof and additional passengers sitting up there. We sat by the door and before we departed the enterprising caterers struggled through the bus offering their travel snacks. All healthy choices, from boiled eggs to cut fruit packs and bottled water.

The bus door was permanently open because that’s where the two conductors sat to supervise the goings on and to watch for more passengers along the way. Plus young male passengers can stand on the step and hang on wherever they can, travelling, literally, outside the bus.

Usually three passengers could do this, in addition to the two conductors sitting on the doorway steps. At one point a fourth passenger clung on for dear life. When the bus came to a brief stop he got my attention by tapping on the window and indicated he wanted it opened. After a little fiddling I obliged and as the bus moved off his foot went on the window ledge and he climbed up to the roof to become another roof surfer.

One conductor, in particular, seemed to have various duties to perform while we were travelling along. Of course the bus can’t stop. It has to maintain its 30 km per hour average so he does his duties as we move along. The thing is, some of this was outside the bus! He would climb out up onto the roof or hold on and move along the outside of the bus to the back door, do whatever he needed to, and use the same means to return to his spot in our doorway.

When the bus stopped for pick up and drop off, The passenger opposite us got off and moments later was back with a very fine looking rooster sitting on his lap. It became a fellow passenger for the remainder of the trip to Baucau.

Baucau is about 130 kms from Dili and the trip takes about three and half hours, partly because of the stop/starting but mainly because of the marginal road. It’s narrow and sealed mostly with a narrow strip of bitumen down the middle. The road is windy and in places mountainous. Travelling at speed is impossible, especially if you want your roof passengers to stay on around the bends.

The passengers were all charming, friendly and showed great courtesy to us. The loud music broadcast from the driver’s Ipod was surprisingly eclectic. It ranged from Indonesian torch songs and Portuguese pop to country covers, such as Hank Williams’ “Help Me Make It Through The Night” in a high tempo beat sung in Indonesian. We also had various ethnic rap and ballads, and Bollywood sounds plus much, much more. Other than being a little loud it was pretty much tolerable.

Our bus crew were young and a little brash. Along with a couple of mates that were traveling with them, I would best describe them as party boys. The driver, however, was professional at his job when he was behind the wheel.

As we approached Baucau the passengers became jovial and very talkative. It didn’t seem who they spoke to, just one passenger chatting to another. The bus went straight past the terminal and down into the old town, dropping passengers off at their intended destinations. What a great service.

At this point Mary’s Tetum language lessons came to the fore. She was able to communicate well enough to get us dropped off approximately where we were booked to stay. The party boys drove off down the hill to deliver another passenger. Once oriented we also walked off down the hill to our backpacker accommodation. Within a minute the party boys were coming back up the hill and upon seeing us they hung out of every orifice the bus had and gave us a noisy farewell. Or were they just taking the piss out of the two westerners that dared to travel on their bus. Who knows, but they were having fun and they made us smile.

David Morgan

March 2021

David Morgan ran up huge credit card debts following his girlfriend to various development country assignments. It paid off. They are now married.

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